Narnia in the Workplace: Discovering Your Wizard and Warrior Personas

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal

Through the theatrical successes of C.S. Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" saga, our culture has confirmed its fascination with Fantasy. Warriors clash swords. Wizards cast spells. Heroes are born as they vanquish villains. Beyond blockbuster videos and bedtime stories, though, these archetypes can also flourish in the cubicles and offices of your organization. But this demands that leaders embrace the warrior and wizard attributes.

So they bring clout, hope and faith to organizations that have become neutered and sterile.

In exploring the neglected corporate personifications of the wizard and the warrior, leaders can push provincial organizational dynamics through the proverbial wardrobe into the expanse of limitless potential. In engaging this new world, managers can learn the promises and pitfalls common to both warriors and wizards.

The Current State of Affairs
Through two decades of research, a notable shift in leadership roles has been discovered. Most leaders function within two limited frames: the analyst and the caregiver.

Analysts emphasize rationality, analysis, logic, facts and data. They believe that leaders must get the right information, analyze it correctly and develop goals and strategy based on the facts. They try to avoid or control emotions and politics to head off distorted decisions and irrational action. They believe a good leader is knowledgeable, thinks clearly, makes the right decisions, has good analytic skills and can design clear structures and systems that get the job done.

Caregivers, on the other hand, emphasize the importance of people and relationships. They prefer collaboration to competition and care as much about helping as winning. They look for ways to understand and respond to the needs, concerns and feelings of colleagues and constituents. They believe in leadership built around coaching, participation, motivation, teamwork and good interpersonal relations. A good leader cares deeply about others and is a facilitator who listens, supports and empowers.

Both analyst and caregiver approaches are needed in groups, organizations and societies. But by relying primarily on these two prototypes, most managers have developed an unbalanced over-reliance on structural and human resource perspectives. It cramps their leadership and renders their organizations stagnant or toxic.

To invigorate organizations, leaders must unleash their wizard and warrior personas.

Wizards bring imagination, insight, creativity, vision, meaning and magic to the work of leadership. They look beyond the surface of things to see new possibilities. They surprise and delight followers with new and imaginative solutions to old problems. They goad others to be creative. They often work magic—accomplishing the impossible. They are visionaries with a flair for drama and a yen for symbols; they get people excited and committed to the organization’s culture and mission. Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines, used corporate wizardry to construct an entire culture specific to his company. That’s how Kelleher made Southwest the most consistently profitable and productive airline in the industry.

Warriors believe that managers and leaders live in a world of conflict and scarce resources. The leader’s job is mobilizing resources needed to advocate and fight for the organization’s agenda. Warriors emphasize the importance of building a power base: allies, resources, networks and coalitions. They welcome conflict and competition rather than fear or avoid them. They are eager to challenge those who oppose their group and its interests. They will protect the group when it is attacked and take the fight to the opposition when the prospects for victory are favorable. Business icon Warren Buffett stands as the paragon of the warrior model.

By employing the wizard and the warrior dispositions, an individual provides the political and symbolic superlatives most often associated with effective leadership. Unfortunately, most managers are hesitant to adopt what they need most.

Why Wizards and Warriors Are Feared
A widespread paradox exists: the most important is also the most neglected. A high percentage of managers are repelled or frightened by the warrior persona and puzzled by the wizard one. As a result, they shy away from embracing the possibilities and powers embodied in these images. For those who dislike or fear combat, as is true of many caregivers, recognizing the warrior within is both frightening and disturbing. For analysts who pride themselves on logic and common sense, the wizard’s enigmatic ways are crazy or scary.

This enduring paradox neuters the efficacy of most managers. If magic and combat are shunned, an organization turns drab, hollow or septic. Fixed to unimaginative protocols and unchallenging environments, the analyst and the caregiver wither and stagnate. The wizard and the warrior remain unreachable fantasies. Only through bold steps into battle and belief can a leader reach a personal Narnia—a land of courage, strength, and enchantment.

About the Author(s)

Lee G. Bolman is a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and coauthor of The Wizard and the Warrior: Leading with Passion and Power (Jossey-Bass, March, 2006, $27.95).
Terrence E. Deal is retired from the professoriate and is a novice vintner, and coauthor of The Wizard and the Warrior: Leading with Passion and Power (Jossey-Bass, March, 2006, $27.95).